John Hoover

Ask Hoover: on Mike Stoops, Baker’s big day, Mason Fine’s Heisman hopes and the Big 12

Ask Hoover: on Mike Stoops, Baker’s big day, Mason Fine’s Heisman hopes and the Big 12

FILE – In this Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 file photo, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is pictured before an NCAA college football game between Ohio State and Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma’s defense, which led the Big 12 last year, gave up 854 yards last week in a win over Texas Tech. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Time again for Ask Hoover, my weekly blog where I answer your college football questions, or just about anything else.

In addition to posting them all on The Franchise website, my co-host Colby Powell and I also will pull apart the best questions during “The Franchise Drive” each Friday night. Tune into fm107.7 in Oklahoma City or fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, the free Franchise mobile app, or right here online at 6 p.m. to listen.

Big night for Baker Mayfield and the Browns last night. That dude is simply irrepressible. I knew it was just a matter of time before he was starting, but I hoped it wouldn’t be because of an injury to Tyrod Taylor. The reality, though, is that now things become tough for Mayfield. Now there are expectations. In Cleveland, expectations are seldom fair.

Let’s get to the questions. Stay dry, Oklahoma, and enjoy the games.

 

Well, let’s be honest. His name is Stoops, and he has a pedigree. That pedigree gets further away every year. But we shouldn’t blame Mike Stoops entirely for OU’s lack of tackling acumen at Iowa State. They had been tackling better the first two weeks, though that could be a product of lousy opposition. Iowa State has good players, and they’re hard for good defenses to get to the ground. So put a middling defense like OU in Jack Trice Stadium, and the Sooners get exposed. My question, and I asked it of Lincoln Riley on Monday, do OU coaches implement more tackling sessions in practice after a bad game like last week?

“You just make it an emphasis. Some of it is physical and some of it is mental. There are some fundamental things that we need to do better that we’re going to spend a lot of time on this week,” Riley said. “… How much time do you spend on scheme? How much time do you spend on fundamentals? There’s always some give and take. There are times when you feel like you spend too much time on fundamentals and maybe there’s something schematically that you weren’t prepared for. Then if you cut the fundamentals a little bit, you feel the leakage there. It’s constant. It’s ever-changing.”

I get the feeling Mike Stoops will be the OU defensive coordinator as long as Lincoln Riley wants him to be. And as much as Riley’s relationship with Bob Stoops means to him, that could be a lot longer than some Sooner fans want.

 

I would have thought you were drunk if you’d asked me that before last weekend. But the Big 12 jumped up and stood out last week, with Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU going 5-2 against a terrific non-conference schedule. TCU’s loss to Ohio State was actually as impressive as some of the wins.

The Pac-12 isn’t any good. The ACC is a one-team league with some quality pretenders. The Big Ten lost seven games in a weekend for the first time in the poll era, per Stewart Mandel of The Athletic. I picked the Big 12 to go 1-6 last week (I’d have said 2-6 if WVU would have gotten to play at N.C. State), but the league’s showing proved me dead wrong.

The Big 12 leads all leagues by playing 37 percent of its non-conference games against Power 5 opponents, and is second with a .667 win percentage against other FBS teams. ESPN ranks the Big 12 second behind the SEC.

Go ahead and argue for the Big 12 at No. 2. It’s a good argument, and no one can actually prove you wrong.

 

At this point, after losing 31-17 at Temple on Thursday night, they’re all must-wins. If Tulsa can cut out all the turnovers — five last night, including a first-quarter pick six by Luke Skipper and a game-clinching fumble by Skipper in the closing minutes — then they can compete with the rest of its AAC schedule. If the turnovers continue, Philip Montgomery will have no choice but to make a change at QB.

Montgomery is intensely loyal, but I don’t think he’s stubborn when it comes to player performance. He has options other than Skipper.

As for his own job security, Montgomery is safe for this year unless, maybe, it becomes evident he has somehow lost the team and they can’t win any more. I don’t see that happening. I get the feeling players absolutely love him.

The hard part for Tulsa fans is seeing Mason Fine set all the state high school records at Locust Grove, be utterly ignored by TU, then go and set all the school records at North Texas. Every time Fine (and Skipper) plays like he has been, it’s an indictment on Montgomery and any coach who needed a quarterback and chose not to recruit him.

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine celebrates with fans after defeating Arkansas 44-17 after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

 

Two things have to happen: North Texas probably has to go undefeated and Fine has to put up otherworldly numbers. A perfect example: Colt Brennan from Hawaii made it to New York City as a finalist in 2007, but finished a distant third (632 points) behind Tim Tebow (1,957) and Darren McFadden (1,703). Hawaii went 12-0 in the regular season and Brennan threw for 4,343 yards and 38 TDs (a year after throwing for 5,549 and 58).

That and two other QBs — Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch in 2011 and Alcorn State’s Steve McNair in 1994 — are as close as a player from outside the Power 5 conferences has come since Marshall Faulk finished second in 1992. BYU’s Ty Detmer went 10-2 and put up 5,188 yards and 41 touchdowns for BYU, and actually won the award in 1990.

Football has changed since the early ‘90s, and so has the public’s perception of Group of 5 talent. With all the hype on the SEC, the Big Ten and other leagues, it seems more unlikely than ever that a small QB from North Texas could actually win the award.

 

Oklahoma State’s defense looks legit. Now, it was just Boise State. But the Broncos are supposed to be way better than they played in Stillwater. Jim Knowles’ defense just physically overwhelmed Boise. So keep an eye on that.

I’m not declaring OSU’s new special teams tandem quite on Joe DeForest’s level just yet. But the fact the Cowboys’ special teams ranked last in the nation in 2017 and then have showed this kind of success this early in 2018 (two blocked punts led to points; one was returned for a TD) shows me something.

The real question about OSU now, incredibly, might be its offense, though QB Taylor Cornelius really showed me something last week too with his ability to make plays on the run. He’s so big and strong he pulls away from tacklers or drags them to the end zone, and he is showing a command of the offense. His nerves don’t seem to be lingering, and he has command of the playbook.

Watch out for the Cowboys possibly meeting OU in the Big 12 title game.

Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown celebrates his touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

 

Marquise Brown is on the level of those guys and others, like Ryan Broyles and Malcolm Kelly, talent-wise, but he’s much faster. This year, he’s really grown into becoming a great Division I receiver with attention to detail on his route-running, steady hands and patience within the playbook. His rapport with Kyler Murray has been impressive.

What benefits Hollywood as much as anything: Lincoln Riley is his playcaller.

 

He is currently last on the depth chart, though I think that is subject to change, week-to-week, based on how everyone practices. There will come a time when the Sooners need Brooks, whether it’s one big play here or there or in a pinch for a full game behind Trey Sermon, Marcelias Sutton and T.J. Pledger. If he can take a professional approach and stay ready, he’ll shine when his time comes.

 

That Wisconsin loss to BYU was a shocker. The Badgers were my pick to rep the Big Ten in the playoff, and it may yet come to pass. But I don’t think Urban Meyer’s continued mishandling of Zach and Courtney Smith is going to keep the Buckeyes out of the playoff if they’re in the conversation come December. That team is loaded with NFL talent, Meyer is an elite coach and the Buckeyes have too much cachet nationally to let an August controversy keep them out of the playoffs.

Now, if Ohio State falters, absolutely. Of the rest of the Big Ten, only 3-0 Penn State looks the part of a possible playoff contender, though Michigan could get there with just its loss to Notre Dame (if Notre Dame stays good).

 

Great question, Brian. I had to ask a couple of athletic administrator sources on this one.

Every contract is different. But the bigger schools usually agree to an “Act of God” clause, wherein if the game is not played, there is some remuneration. Some agree to a flat fee. Some adhere to a small percentage of the original deal. Some, despite little language in the contract for reimbursement of travel expenses already incurred (accommodations are made and paid for months ahead of the game), will help reimburse the traveling school for money already spent.

A few, however, don’t offer anything. If a small-school budgets a $1 million payday based on a contract signed years in advance and the game is bumped by a hurricane and the language in that contract clearly states something to the effect of, “if the game is not played, ABC U. is not obligated to pay anything to XYZ College,” then the little guy gets nothing and immediately tries to find some way to recoup that lost revenue.

 

No way. Arkansas will have no part of playing Arkansas State, and certainly not any of the small schools. It’s an ego thing. It shouldn’t be, but that’s one way Frank Broyles always kept Arkansas the boss hog in that state, was by denying the other schools even existed. Success on the football field was another way, of course. But there’s no denying Broyles never acknowledged A-State, kind of like he would never entertain the idea of playing TU in Tulsa.

 

After what I saw Saturday in Ames, I’d say the latter is more likely. I do think the Sooners’ defense is improved over recent years, and that’s a reflection of better talent in recruiting. But a handful of plays in early games where bad tackling was overcome by having more people at the football were exposed at Iowa State—that is, bad tackling still happened, and the rest of the defenders weren’t pursuing the football because they were still being blocked. Because Iowa State is better than UCLA and FAU. So as the schedule stiffens up and as the defense has to face more accomplished offenses, I think we’ll see OU’s defensive numbers continue to disappoint.

 

Need? No.

Would it be better served with a football commissioner? Yes, but only if it’s a position that can operate with some football-only powers independent from the NCAA president’s office.

Realistically, navigating the NCAA’s tangle of rules, committees, subcommittees and appeals is probably too much for any individual, but it would be nice to think it could happen.

 

Sooner Nation probably could get it done with a GoFundMe drive.

 

No. Now stop.

Ohio State NCAA college football head coach Urban Meyer gestures while speaking at a press conference in Columbus, Ohio, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mitch Stacy)

 

Fraud and liar? Absolutely. Those in the industry know what a toad of a human being he really is.

That said, they also know he’s a hell of a coach and a once-in-a-generation recruiter who will probably beat their brains out on the football field.

 

Not yet. My order of finish was OU, WVU, TCU, OSU, Texas, K-State, Iowa State, Tech, Baylor and KU. I think I like my picks so far.

 

Probably. Other conferences have 11 a.m. kickoffs too, but OU would be a prime time property in most other leagues, so would get fewer rooster kicks. The fact OU runs the Big 12 doesn’t matter as much because the Big 12 has been told by its TV partners what time slots hold its greatest value: the early ones.

 

As mentioned above, the Big 12 is better than I thought it would be.

Is your definition of good “multiple teams that can win the national championship?” If so, then the Big 12 is not good. Does it mean “one team is capable of winning the natty?” The Big 12 has Oklahoma, which has as good a shot as any league at upsetting Alabama. Or does your definition of good mean “a bunch of teams that don’t suck?” Because if that’s your definition of good, the Big 12 has got you covered.

 

You nailed it. Once defensive coordinators and their staffs start breaking down film on Mayfield, and once NFL defenders start prepping for him in practice, things will get much tougher. It’s happened a million times when a backup quarterback unexpectedly comes off the bench and looks amazing, then gets his first start and can’t seem to function. It’s just the nature of playing against NFL defenses. Those guys are good.

That said, Mayfield has looked like a superstar whether he was walking on at Texas Tech, beating out Trevor Knight at OU, winning three Big 12 titles, playing in the NFL preseason or coming off the bench against the Jets. There’s a reason for that: he is a superstar.

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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